Christmas horror at NZ beaches


 Emergency services are currently at the scene of a suspected drowning in the Manawatu Gorge.

This is in addition to an 82-year-old who drowned in the Bay of Islands this morning – bringing the death toll by drowing to four for the Christmas-New Year period.

A St John Ambulance spokesperson has confirmed one person has drowned in the Opito Bay are, 15 minutes from Kerikeri, just before 8:30 this morning.

However, there are fears that as many as five people may have now drowned with a 17-year-old swimmer who went missing since yesterday off the coast of Whanganui.

A three-year-old boy drowned in a lagoon near Hastings, while a woman in her 40s and a 33-year-old man drowned and another man was taken to hospital in a serious condition at Ruapuke Beach on Waikato's west coast.

Water Safety New Zealand, the Police National Dive Squad and Coastguard New Zealand are all urging holidaymakers to take care in the water as the Christmas holiday season gears up and fine weather is forecast.

"These are avoidable tragedies, they are not accidents," Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams of the Police National Dive Squad says.

There have been 96 drowning fatalities so far this year, up from the 90 in the whole of 2014.

Ten people drowned during last year's holiday period.

"It's been a terribly sad Christmas Day on the water with three drownings and a fourth person missing," Water Safety New Zealand says in a Facebook post.

The organisation had been hoping for a zero drowning toll in the official Christmas holiday period when 4000 lifeguards are patrolling 80 beaches.

It's reiterating water safety messages.

"Blokes, don't overestimate your ability or underestimate the conditions. And parents and caregivers of under fives, please keep your pre-schooler within arm's reach."

Coastguard New Zealand said "our thoughts are with the families of those waiting for their loved ones to be returned to them today. Thank you to our Coastguard volunteers nationwide who have been involved in search and rescue missions."

Men make up around 80 percent of the total drowning toll with a particular over-representation in boating incidents, Water Safety New Zealand says.

Coastguard New Zealand chief executive Patrick Holmes says following the five rules of the boating safety code - wearing a lifejacket, carrying communications, skipper responsibility, checking the weather and not drinking alcohol - are a boatie's best protection when the unexpected happens.

The dive squad says seven divers have died so far this year when the five-year average is five underwater drowning deaths per year. This includes snorkel, scuba or free-diving.